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blue velvet sofa against pastel pink background

Why do we call it a ‘sofa’? (Or a couch, or a settee?)

blue velvet sofa against pastel pink background

Is a sofa the same as a couch? Or should we call it a settee? If you want to know your loveseat from your chaise longue, and your couch from your chesterfield, read on! Here’s our complete guide to the many words for sofa…

Is it a sofa, couch or settee?

Is there a correct word between sofa, couch or settee? In modern day terms, sofa is the most popular word used to describe that big, comfy piece of furniture in your living room, but the words couch and settee do mean the same thing, and are certainly interchangeable today.

Back in the 1950s, the author Nancy Mitford wrote a guide to words that were suitable for the aspiring upper class, and words that were used by the aspiring middle class. According to Mitford, the upper class tended to use simpler terms, similar to the working classes, whilst the aspiring middle class would opt for more pretentious language. In terms of sofa, Mitford suggested that ‘sofa’ was the correct term, whilst ‘couch’ and ‘settee’ were the more pompous terms used by the aspiring middle class.

yellow sofa with pastel cushions

Snowdrop 2.5 seat sofa in Butterscotch cotton matt velvet

The difference between a sofa, a settee and a couch

What is a sofa?

A sofa is defined as an upholstered bench or seat featuring arms and a back, allowing people to sit comfortably. This is the most common word used nowadays to describe the comfy piece of furniture we all relax on in the living room.

What is a couch?

The couch originated in French interior design in the 17th century, and consisted of a lounge seat with supports at both ends, but with no back support, unlike a sofa as we know it today. Instead, a couch was very similar to a traditional daybed or chaise longue. The name likely came from the french word coucher, meaning to sleep. The word couch is still widely used across the USA to describe a sofa.

What is a settee?

The settee originated in the Middle Ages, and whilst it had a design more similar to the sofa as we know it, was typically made from wood, and typically featuring an elegant and intricately carved back.

What is a loveseat?

Whilst we use the term loveseat today to describe a cross between an armchair and a sofa, a seat that would accommodate 2 people at a stretch, or one person with plenty of room, the term loveseat was originally used to describe a seat that comfortably sat two people. Whilst the name suggests an element of match-making, the loveseat was originally designed for ladies to be able to sit comfortably whilst wearing wide dresses.

jade velvet loveseat

Isla Loveseat sofa bed in Jade smart velvet

Chesterfield

The Chesterfield is a name that many Canadians still use to describe any type of sofa, but here in the UK the term is mainly used to describe a large, overstuffed, button tufted sofa, often upholstered in leather and reminscent of the sofas you’d find within gentlemans clubs in Victorian London. Our Patrick sofa is a great example of a refined version of the classic chesterfield sofa, with a deep button tufted and pleated back and comfy seat cushions.

leather chesterfield sofa against dark blue wall

Patrick 3 seat sofa in Satchel vintage leather

The origin of the word sofa

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word ‘sofa’ originates in the eastern Mediterranean with the Arabic soffah, which is ‘a part of the floor raised a foot or two, covered with rich carpets and cushions, and used for sitting upon’.

In 1625, Samuel Purchas was the first person to write about a sofa, which he noted during his travels to Arabia, calling it a ‘sofa’, whilst in 1637 Sir George Courthop described a ‘sopha’ as a place raised about a foot to sit on.

In the 17th century, the sofa as we know it came to England from France, and became a popular piece of furniture in homes of the wealthy, and by the 19th century the spelling had been settled on – it was officially a sofa!

dark blue velvet sofa in dark blue room

Holly 2.5 seat sofa in Deep Turquoise cotton matt velvet

Different types of sofa

So now we know, the super comfy piece of furniture in your living room is called a sofa! But what type of sofa do you have? From the standard sofa, to chaise sofas and corner sofas, there is still plenty of variation!

Standard sofa

The standard sofa comes in a wide range of different styles and sizes – here at sofa.com we have 2 seat sofas, 2.5 seat sofas, 3 seat sofas and even some 4 seat sofas.

velvet sofa against light green wall with accents of pink

Isla 3 seat sofa in Armour smart velvet

Chaise sofa

A chaise sofa consists of a standard sofa, but with an extended seat cushion and extra legs on one side of the sofa, allowing you to put your feet up and stretch out in style.

velvet chaise sofa

Iggy chaise sofa in Squirrel cotton matt velvet

Corner sofa

A corner sofa is the perfect choice for busy homes and larger households! A corner sofa tends to consist of two sofa sections that are joined together at a right angle, allowing the whole family to sit down together to relax for a movie night or spend the afternoon together.

light blue sofa against a dark blue wall

Aissa medium corner sofa in Lagoon brushed linen cotton

So there you have it – a complete guide to the history of the word ‘sofa’. Of course, when it comes to sofa styles we have them in abundance! Browse our range of sofas, or take a look at our guide to finding your dream sofa. Check out some of our customer favourites: the Bluebell, the Snowdrop, and the Isla to name but a few. 

3 Comments :

  1. Gerry Lancashire

    A brilliant description of how the words originated, I really enjoyed it.


  2. Siren

    That was fun and informative luckily I was sitting on a dining chair as I read it. Or should that be seat?


  3. Debapriya Dev

    Lovely article. I was going to order some custom made seats for my hall. Now I know whether to order for a sofa or a divan or a couch,:)


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